The highest ski lifts in the world reach 3,700m on top of the Andes mountain range, deep in the heart of Patagonia. But to access true adventure, you've got to go beyond the lifts, and into the backcountry. Beneath the bright stars of the Milky Way, endless sheets of snow beckon skiers into some of the best untouched terrain on the planet.
For the intrepid skier who wants to score some of the best runs of their life but is lacking the time and gear to spend six weeks storm chasing in the southern hemisphere, there's another option: snowcat skiing in the Baguales mountain range.
Beyond the chairlifts and hot tubs, tucked into a pristine, rustic alpine environment, the Baguales backcountry ski resort is coming into it's own. The idea began skier Frederic Holvoet began exploring the region in 2008. Subsequent trips revealed even more skiable area. “Though we already have some incredible access, we have only opened up 5% of the potential terrain.”
The dedication to maintaining the purity of the environment is thorough. The huts have been built with local wood and stone. They're saving energy with solar panels and hydraulic turbines. Every effort has been made to keep the surroundings as pure as possible.
And of course, rather than installing permanent lifts that mar the landscape, the snowcats let a small group of people access large amounts of terrain, with no lasting impact.
The vehicles – which are operated by a trained driver – will transport you and a small group of friends from spot to spot, covering more area than is offered in a typical European or North American ski resort. Of course, cat skiing isn't without risk, or for the uninitiated. There are no ski patrollers, no signs telling you whether it's a green run or a black run, and the cliffs are certainly un-marked. There's a much more real danger of avalanches – and help is further away.
But for untouched lines in deep powder, it's worth it – even if you might not spend as much time on skis. “There are fewer runs in a day in the backcountry than at the resort, but those runs are worth ten times more because of the energy you put in to get through them,” says Holvoet. “You'll access terrain in the backcountry that you could never explore with a chairlift – and your soul and spirit are connected with the mountains of Baguales.”